Are you struggling to find the time to work out or prepare healthy meals during the week?

If you are working a full-time job, or are a student or mom, you know that life gets busy and it is hard to dedicate time for your health. Those new year’s resolutions may motivate you to push harder for the first few weeks, but without a concrete plan of action life will get in your way.

Today, I would like to share 15 tips to get in shape for busy people. As a medical student in her last year, I have to try hard to balance studies and health. I hope you will find my tips useful (and read until the end for a little reward)!

1. Plan ahead

Plan your week

Of all my tips, this is the most important one. If you are working a full-time job, are busy with collage exams, or have to look after the kids, planning your week ahead of time is a game changer.

Every Sunday, take out a notebook, open a new file in word, or use the notebook app on your mobile device. Write down your schedule for every day for the next week. This includes working hours, when you need to get up, what time you get back home, what time you have a lunch break, etc. If you really struggle with making time for healthy eating and fitness, this will help you out a lot.

The next step is to determine which days you can fit in a workout and prepare your meals for the next day. If you have to leave very early in the morning, make sure to have everything ready the night before. Maybe you have a little 20-minute time frame in the evening to fit in a quick sweat session?

The first time, things might go wrong and you might not be able to stick to your plan. Don’t get discouraged! After a while, you will notice how much free time you actually have.

2. Set realistic goals

While planning your week ahead, don’t schedule hour-long workouts on days you know you might be too busy to complete them. You have to be honest with yourself. If you know you are going to come home very late and will be tired but still have to cook dinner, chances are you will have to skip the workout.

Instead, write down which days you are 80% sure you can fit in at least 20 minutes of exercise. It is okay not to work out and take rest days. Your goal should be to stick to your plan and not to skip workouts.

3. Cook in bulk

Cook in bulk

For healthy nutrition, cooking in bulk is my main tool. If you are studying for exams all day long or are working at your job, you will not have the time to cook a special meal every day.

Most meals can be reheated and eaten 2-3 days after being cooked. This way, you only have to cook 2-3 times during the week.

If you lack ideas, you can find delicious and easy recipes on Pinterest.

4. Prepare snacks

Many people eat healthy at home but fail to stick to their diet when they are on the go. Temptation is everywhere, and if your friends or collegues don’t understand your lifestyle, it is easy to fall off the wagon.

It is okay to enjoy little treats here and there and have a not-so-healthy meal. What matters is that you don’t make it a habit to buy the easiest fast food when you are eating out.

Instead, pack yourself snacks that are high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats to fill you up. The fat and protein will also increase hormones that decrease hunger and stabilize blood sugar levels. This will aid in weight and fat loss and you will not feel deprived either.

Examples for great snacks are nuts, self-made protein bars, cookies, fruit, and greek yoghurt.

5. Prepare portable meals

If you are going to be at work the whole day, little snacks won’t suffice. Also, eating out every day can be very expensive, especially if you try to stick to healthy food options.

So, prepare lunch the night before and take it with you to work or school. I highly recommend sticking to easy, basic recipes. A salad with chicken, wild rice, and avocado is one of my favorite options.

You can also prepare meatballs, beans, pasta, eggs—the options are endless. I recommend not to take anything liquid, like soup, unless you have a very safe container.

6. Avoid food cravings

Cravings usually occur during a low-calorie diet, when your body is lacking nutrients and when you are stressed or otherwise emotionally unbalanced. In fact, your cravings could be a sign of a vitamin deficiency in your body.

If you are constantly stressed, try to find ways to calm down other than using food. Take a hot bath, drink some soothing tea, try a yoga class or video from youtube. Sometimes, writing down your thoughts on a piece of paper helps too.

In addition to that, I recommend not to follow a restricted diet. Clean eating means sticking to non-processed foods most of the time.

However, if you want to make it a lifestyle, you need to ask yourself if you could commit to this style of eating for the rest of your life. If your answer is “no,” you will fall off the wagon easily.

Instead, fit in small treats like a piece of chocolate or half a serving of ice cream into your diet.

Also, you can bake healthy versions of your favorite cookies and cakes to satisfy your sweet tooth. You can even prepare them beforehand and store them in the freezer. They taste just as amazing as freshly baked, trust me!

7. Adjust your food intake

You don’t have to work out 5-7 times per week to get in shape. At the end of the day, your weight loss success depends on calories in versus calories out. Thus, you need to change your food intake according to your activity level.

If you are sitting and not very active for most of the day, you should eat less than someone who is on their feet all day long. On training days, eat more, especially post-workout. This way, your body will learn to use the extra fuel on training days to build muscle and not store as fat.

8. Eat frequently

Healthy snacks

During clinical rotations at med school, we don’t always have time for a lunch break. Many doctors skip eating and go out for dinner afterwards.

However, if you let your body starve for such a long period of time, you will most likely overeat and consume more calories than you have burned that day in one sitting. I always have either self-made protein bars or little portable meals with me and eat those.

It just takes 5 minutes but goes a long way, trust me. When you arrive home, your blood sugar levels will not be that low and you will make healthier choices and stick to reasonable portion sizes.

9. Choose intensity over duration

When it comes to fitness, it does not matter how many hours you work out per week. What matters is intensity.

You can work out for an hour long and just go through the movements and hardly break a sweat. Or, you can fit in a quick 15-minute sweat session and push really hard—until your muscles and lungs are burning.

Which technique will benefit you more in the long run? The latter version will not only burn more calories during but also after the session—your metabolism is revved for up to 24 hours following!

10. Be active in general

15 Tips to get in shape for busy people

Make it a habit to take the stairs, always. Don’t use your car to get groceries from a nearby store. Try to find ways to be generally active during the day. It might not sound like a lot of exercise to you now, but these little actions add up and will keep your metabolism high. Even if you fail to do a workout, at least you were active and tried your best!

11. Use the weekends

The weekends are the best time to focus on fitness and nutrition. Don’t panic, you can still relax and enjoy time with your family and friends. A good workout only takes one hour of your day, but you will benefit from it forever. If you are only able to fit in 10-15 minutes a few times during the week, make use of your free time on the weekend.

Lift heavy weights, do high intensity interval training, and sweat a lot! You will be proud of yourself afterwards and have more energy than when you started.

12. Try home workouts

Home workouts

You don’t need a gym membership to get in shape. If you are beginner, bodyweight strength training will be hard enough for you. There are amazing workout videos on Youtube, I recommend fitnessblender. It is motivating to work out along with the trainers. After a while, you will get used to finishing your day with a 15-minute workout, done in the comfort of your own living room.

13. Drink water

When you are out all day, it is easy to forget to drink enough. However, proper hydration is crucial to keeping your metabolism high and curbing cravings. Always keep a water bottle with you and sip on it whenever you feel like you might be getting hungry. Most of the time, it is not real hunger but thirst—our brain can’t fully distinguish between both sometimes.

14. Get plenty of sleep

When people contact me because they are unable to lose weight, despite proper nutrition and training, the first thing I ask is if they sleep enough.

You may not realize how much lack of sleep impacts all hormones in your body. Cortisol, the stress hormone, increases and modulates all metabolic processes in your body. Thus, people with high cortisol levels store fat easily and also get hungry much faster. Try to go to bed at a decent time and find ways to calm down in the evening. Don’t spend too much time in front of the computer—read a book, take a bath, relax. I also recommend listening to some calming music before going to bed.

15. Don’t stress it

Some weeks you will stick to your plan without any effort. Then, there are those weeks where everything seems to go wrong. Sometimes, things happen we cannot control. Your child might get sick or you have to stay longer at work or school. On those days, you might fall off track and have to skip a workout. Unless this becomes a habit, don’t stress it. It is okay to fail now and then. What matters is your determination to get back up and continue where you left.

And now, your little surprise:

Get in shape for busy people — A workout plan!

If you have made it until the very end of this article—you rock! Thank you for staying with me. As a little reward, I designed a week of workouts for you busy people! Now, you don’t even need to search for workouts. Just save this workout schedule and you are good to go!

Workout plan for busy people

If you liked this weekly workout plan and my tips to get in shape for busy people, comment below and share it!

Do you have other tips to get fit while living a busy lifestyle? Share your ways to stay healthy!

Featured photo credit: Runner/ Garry Knight via flickr.com

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